Satyam - the next chapter
Friday the 10th of January went like any other day for Ramalinga Raju – business as usual. His arrest alongside his brother that evening was anything but. From that moment he was the ex-Chairman of one of India’s most successful outsourcing companies and exposed as the main perpetrator of the country’s biggest ever financial fraud. He and those involved with him had systematically brought Satyam - once a shining paragon of India’s outsourcing elite - to its knees. Since the arrest, many more have followed, both at Satyam and their auditors, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, leaving an indelible stain on both companies. The investigation has uncovered over $1bn worth of fraud and the quest to weed out all those culpable and right the wrongs of years of systematic ‘book-cooking’ will continue for some time.
But, emerging from these bleak and embarrassing times for Indian business, comes a ray of light. This week Tech Mahindra, the telecom-focused joint venture between BT and India’s Mahindra and Mahindra, has emerged as the highest bidder in a Satyam centric ‘fire sale’. Instigated by the Government and pushed along by NASSCOM, the industry body for Indian outsourcing, it is hoped the sale will draw a line under the scandal and signal a new beginning for Satyam and the outsourcing industry in general. But will it? Are Satyam’s troubles finally over and can Tech Mahindra, a relatively small fish in the outsourcing pond, make the deal work for the both of them?
“It’s likely the Enron-esque scandal will rumble on for some time. There is still some way to go in sorting out all the problems the company faces,” comments Phil Morris, COO for EquaTerra Europe, a leading advisory firm.
Indeed there is still a big question mark over the company; three more Satyam execs were arrested just last week and investigators are still digging. And, all forward-looking rhetoric aside, there is still no telling just how ingrained the fraud had become and how deep culpability goes. But industry commentators are broadly positive about the move, presumably welcoming a change rather than leaving Satyam to burn slowly to the ground.
None are more positive than Tech Mahindra itself. Preferring not to comment broadly prior to the Company Law Board’s (CLB) final approval [approved this Thursday 16th, ed.], the company issued a gushing press release, “This is a landmark development for Tech Mahindra and I am delighted that we are the highest bidder for Satyam.”
But the industry in general also seems convinced that this really is a new beginning for Satyam. “The fact that this move has been concluded (relatively) quickly is good news for Satyam’s customers. The Indian government and the offshore and outsourcing industry in general has operated effectively to make certain that the sell-off off Satyam does not become a protracted experience. The hope of the Indian Government must be that the sell-off draws a line under the Satyam scandal,” commented Alistair Maughan, a Partner at Law Firm, Morrison & Foerster.
However, despite the fact CLB approval has now come through, there is still a long way to go. Mergers and acquisitions are notoriously troublesome for those unprepared and questions still remain over exactly how Tech Mahindra will tackle the numerous challenges to come.
“The merger will stretch them (Tech Mahindra) quite a lot because M&A’s are not something most companies are geared up to tackle. Executives will be challenged and will definitely need outside help to make things work,” commented Phil Morris.
He added, “But it will help them address the limitations of the company and its having been tied into and reliant upon BT. Tech Mahindra has been limited in scope and delivery capability and Satyam gives them a great leg-up.”
The Chairman of Tech Mahindra, Anand Mahindra, sounded confident that the company can fix things, “The Mahindra Group is known for its good governance and the Tech Mahindra team has demonstrated its outstanding customer centric focus over the last many years. I am sure that Satyam’s customers and employees will welcome this news. Looking forward, we are confident that this will lead to a positive transformation in Satyam’s business.”
If Tech Mahindra can make the acquisition work well, it will be a giant leap for the previously telecom’s centric provider. Satyam is an impressive animal delivery-wise and will open Tech Mahindra to clients and delivery capabilities in numerous new industries.
But there is still the matter of customers to consider first. As you would expect during a huge scandal such as this, Satyam has lost a reported 46 customers since the news broke including the lucrative National Australia Bank (NAB) contract. While many larger clients will be weary of risking the upheaval that changing large contract suppliers entails, Tech Mahindra must act fast to placate worries and prevent further client exodus.
“If I was Tech Mahindra or Satyam I would want to rebrand the company as a rebirth and new start. This would mark an end to the affair and I think the market would really understand and get behind such a move,” commented Phil Morris.
A rebrand is certainly an option to address Satyam’s severely damaged brand. But there is more that needs to be done directly to help keep customers on side.
“Once Tech Mahindra takes over, the main focus will be on the customers. Tech Mahindra will need to ensure that it targets the highest profile and highest revenue generating customers with the best prospect of continued relationship and focus absolutely in locking them in and keeping the vultures at bay. TM needs to convince Satyam’s key customers that it is big enough and experienced enough in the right sectors to continue to deliver great quality services,” commented, Alistair Maughan.
According to Phil Morris, those customers that decide to stick with Satyam either out of necessity or good faith will also need to do their part to keep things on track during the merger process. “Customers need to work to drive communications going forward and make sure they get Tech Mahindra and Satyam to sit down and talk about continuity of skill and service while changes are taking place.”
It is clear Tech Mahindra’s move is broadly welcomed by the industry but equally certain that there is still a long way to go. Learning from the past and making sure the M&A process is completed as smoothly as possible will be central to the success of the venture. The most important thing, however, has to be transparency. The lack of clarity that has almost been Satyam’s undoing will also make or break it in the future.
Phil Morris succinctly summed it up, “The company must display complete openness and transparency going forward; if they can’t do this, the problems they face now will continue to haunt them for a long time to come.”